Finally Getting Around to Writing About My Procrastinating
By: Jamie Bussin
So, the tagline of this article is a bit of a lie. This was not the last article that I penned for this issue. (I usually save the Publisher’s Note for last). I’m actually very happy to write about my inveterate stalling. It is a defining characteristic of mine. I simply can’t be made to do anything I don’t want to do, until the last minute. And, as you might imagine, I put myself through an unnecessary hell, worrying about the potential consequences of my delay.
To be clear, I’ve actually never missed a deadline in the history of this magazine. And I’m never late. Ever. …But, I do exhibit the classic behavior of a procrastinator: delaying doing an important task by busying myself with less urgent or easier tasks, or things I’d rather do. I famously didn’t purchase a textbook for a particular law school class until the last week of the term. I hated that class so much I would show up with a pen and borrow some paper from the person sitting next to me…and yes, I did pass with a decent grade.
I’ve always assumed that procrastination might be hereditary, and thus physiological. I know my father suffered from it, and I suspect that one or two of my kids do too. Science may support me. A study out of Ruhr University in 2008 found that there are two areas of the brain that are linked to “action control”. Those with poor action control have larger amygdalas and the connection between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex was less pronounced. According to that study; “The primary function of the amygdala is to assess different situations with regard to their respective outcomes and to warn us about potential negative consequences of particular actions. The dorsal ACC uses this information in order to select actions that are to be put into practice. Moreover, by suppressing competing actions and emotions, it ensures that the selected action can be successfully completed.” The result is people like me are more anxious about negative consequences of an action and put things off.
Another study published in Psychological Science in 2014 confirmed that procrastination and impulsivity are in fact genetically linked. This suggests that the two traits stem from similar evolutionary origins and that the traits are related to our ability to successfully pursue and juggle goals. So I guess I come by it honestly.
But procrastination is a little more complex than simple genetics. It turns out that how we think about a task determines whether we will procrastinate. In a study published in 2009 by the Society of Psychological Science, students in an experiment were paid to fill out questionnaires. The students who thought about the questions abstractly were much more likely to procrastinate. By contrast, those who were focused on the how, when and where of doing the task e-mailed their responses much sooner, suggesting that they started the assignment right away rather than procrastinating. So, “merely thinking about the task in more concrete, specific terms makes it feel like it should be completed sooner thus reducing procrastination.”
Peak performance coach and Tonic Talk Show regular Hina Khan frames the notion of procrastination differently. She says; “When clients come to me and tell me they are a procrastinator I tell them that is not true. That can be shocking. They have a habit of procrastinating but it is not who they are. Many people have made the habit part of their identity so it can feel impossible to change; realizing it is a habit can provide some relief and hope! If you want to change it you can do so by interrupting the loop you are in. Author Charles Duhigg describes it as a habit loop with these components: 1. Cue (a project that is due); 2. Routine (scroll social media); and 3. Reward (relief from feeling of heaviness). Understanding the three phases for you can help you change it.”
I wondered if supplements might be the answer. So I reached out to The Tonic Talk Show regular Gordon Chang and Andrea Kuznick, the Director of Education and Marketing at OmegaAlpha. Both recommended lifestyle choices such as regular exercise and getting a good night’s sleep (or walking a dog) to clear the mind. And while there is no magic bullet to help with procrastination specifically, they both suggested the following supplements to improve memory, increase mental alertness and concentration as well as boost energy levels and wakefulness: B12 or B Vitamin Complexes, amino acids (protein shakes), EFAs, omega 3 fatty acids, MCT oils, gingko biloba, adaptogenic herbs, Ginseng Root , Astragalus Root , Ashwagandha Root , Bacopa monnieri, Rhodiola rosea or mushroom extracts like lion’s mane. Also, L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea that can increase feelings of calmness and may be linked to increased creativity. Similarly, Creatine is an amino acid that can improve short-term memory and reasoning skills.
According to mindfulness expert and Tonic Talk Show regular, Tracey Soghrati, procrastination is often associated with perfectionistic behaviours. More specifically, a person who lives with perfectionism tends towards negative self-evaluation, lack of satisfaction with past successes, and excessive worry over making mistakes. These factors lead to avoidance of the task in an effort to postpone uncomfortable feelings or internal pressure.
On the flip side, Tracey says; “When that person finally sits down to do their work, their high standards lead to excellent outcomes. However, the stress of working under pressure sucks the joy out of success.” Amen to that, sister.
There is hope, however. Mindfulness practices that help with procrastination are those that train sustained attention and acceptance of the present moment as it is. Tracey recommends that those who struggle with the perfectionistic procrastination paradox try this focused meditation:
Find a comfortable position for your body. Scan through each section of your physical body (it doesn’t matter where you start/end), and practice welcoming every sensation that arises. (Try this for 10 minutes every day)
For those of you fellow procrastinators who want to change your ways, don’t put it off. Accept that we may be genetically predisposed but that doesn’t mean we can’t change. Whether by breaking the habit loop, clearing our minds through lifestyle choices, supplementation or mindfulness exercises, there are tools available to help.